I haven’t stepped into a country club, played golf, nor am I a WASP, but I’ll still wear this slightly obnoxious, preppy garment.
This is also a topic for my podcast! Listen along below.
One of the first things they tell you in menswear school (okay that doesn’t exist) is that you should get a navy jacket. Make it dark, choose hopsack (or flannel in fall/winter), and if you’re feeling particularly classic, get it in 3-roll-2 closure. It literally goes with everything, from khakis and grey trousers (security guarding, anyone?) to even jeans. In it’s essence, its simply one piece of a navy suit, which will similarly get you through nearly anything and can calm down even the most vibrant of shirt or tie patterns. Put This On sums this up quite nicely.
A navy jacket is truly most versatile jacket you can own, which you can count on just like a dark wash pair of jeans or even a blue chore coat. This is probably why the overall design is inoffensive when worn today, at least compared to it’s original naval (and later, prep) roots. The wider world of menswear has done a great job making the navy jacket subtle, like replacing the brass buttons with dark horn, and making it the go-to top layer for almost all classic clothing.
As a result, the original navy blazer with brass buttons seems to be too bold by comparison. But you can’t deny that there’s something charming about it. Spencer would tell me, “a regular navy jacket can be preppy or ‘normal’ based on how you style it, but a navy jacket with brass buttons will always be preppy. It forces you to lean into it.” I like that mentality, simply because I’ve enjoyed taking certain pieces of clothing outside of their original context!
Now if you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll know that that I didn’t even have a navy sportcoat until late 2017. Then I got a navy hopsack from suit supply, ultimately upgrading to a hopsack Neapolitan cut from Spier & Mackay. It’s now my go to for all “normal” looks or to help tone down bolder pieces. Of course, I later got beater variations from Uniqlo (in cotton and tweed) as well as chore coats for more casual fits. But of course, these were all plain and standard, meant to be the basic jacket to build upon.
I think it was finally time to explore the navy blazer with brass buttons, which as we know, is technically the original.
The Navy Blazer
I’m sure many of us know the history of the navy blazer, as menswear bloggers (and influencers) galore will regale you with it at all times. It originated as a British Naval Officer uniform, as these men wore dark blue jackets with gold buttons. At some point, it made the jump into “civilian” clothing, though as more of a status symbol.
To separate it from typical business wear and a normal navy sportcoat, traditional blazers retained the gold buttons as a nod to the military origins. This time, instead of being military regalia, this provided an opportunity for people to flex their social standing, utilizing specialized buttons with imprinted crests and symbols to notate special groups, military branches, or even schools. The inclusion crest patches would push the blazer as a status symbol, especially as blazers were typically worn as a part of a school uniform.
The school aspect also translates to blazers worn for specific clubs and sports, the latter of which would go on to incorporate specific piping and stripes in the case of rowing and regatta blazers- not all of them were navy. All of these school connotations make the navy blazer a natural (or correct) pair for khakis and white or grey trousers (depending on season).
Obviously, normal navy jackets (here meaning without brass buttons) were still in play in world of menswear. You see this in countless images and illustrations, where navy sportcoats existed along side ones with brass buttons. I assume at a certain point, the Navy Blazer with Brass Buttons became available for regular folk, perhaps as a way to add in that historic, exclusive flair on a mainstream level.
You can definitely tell that Americans took to this quite well. In pictures and illustrations, almost all the imagery follows the British route, with the Blazers being worn with khakis/light pants at very WASPy places like country clubs and tennis courts. This was only exacerbated in the 1950s-1960s with the rise of WASP and Ivy-Trad style to the mainstream, which makes sense considering how Anglophilic they can be.
It was almost as if the Navy Blazer with Brass Buttons had reached peak maturity in the 1960s with Ivy-Trad, finally becoming paired with OCBDS and repp ties, the latter being a direct lift from British club clothing. Our ideas of the quintessential Navy Blazer were fully formed here, as the jacket would add to its color and brass buttons, the swelled edges, 3-roll-2 closure, patch pockets (bonus points if it also has a flap), and the hook vent. Brooks Brothers, J. Press, and a plethora of makers (as well as the wide spread popularity of the look) would ensure that the world would forever associate the Navy Blazer with Brass Buttons with ivy-trad, WASP lifestyles. Or at least, just a traditionally dressed guy.
Perhaps that connotation was too strong, since now wearing a navy blazer with brass buttons definitely makes you look like you’re a WASP, or at least trying intentionally to be. Khakis with it automatically feel prep school, especially if its a single breasted version; a double breasted jacket will look nautical. Both versions are a common trope for wealthy 80s-90s characters and I’m pretty sure mainstream dressers did it too. I seem to recall a few pictures of my dad in his youth wearing a navy blazer with brass buttons in order to appear more traditional and serious- he was an immigrant after all.
When you look back, the classic Navy Blazer with Brass Buttons may seems to have been cast aside when #menswear came out, where it was too “old” yet not loud enough for Pitti Peacocks (perhaps countless bracelets is better for standing out). That’s why every guy wants to have a plain, no-nonsense navy jacket. It’s “normal”, which worked for a while, especially to sell mainstream people on tailoring in general, which is hard to do when the original piece has odd historical and societal connotations. But even then you can only be so “classic” for so long. Dressing up is more fun with character, which the Navy Blazer with Brass Buttons has, at least more so than a standard navy sportcoat.
In fact, the Navy Blazer has made a return for some guys in the menswear industry. It’s no surprise that in most cases, they are leaning into the jacket, choosing embracing the ivy-trad-prep connotations of having a jacket with brass buttons. It makes sense, as the rather garish/maximalist ideas of adding in ivy in a rugged or contrarian way (which is probably related to the rise of milsurp and workwear), goes against the ideas of early “rules” #menswear influencers that continue to persevere a lot of menswear communities. You could also posit that this is related to the return of 60s-70s style, though in terms of trad rather than sexy, disco-esque tailoring.
The metal “hardware” can be said to be reminiscent of the zippers on a leather jacket or rivets on a pair of jeans or the snaps on a trucker jacket or sawtooth shirt. Obviously the Navy Blazer comes from a more refined background, but the idea is that it is also a piece of menswear that uses visible “metalwork”. It’s kinda punk rock, especially when you wear it subversively (as you’ll see later on).
I think it’s pretty cool to see people find vintage brass (or even pewter, as was common in the late 60s-70s) buttons, either as a connection to a school or simply because they think its cool. Even some brands put their own insignia on the Blazers they make as a nod to the jacket’s societal roots. I’ve also seen a few guys simply go for mother of pearl buttons (the typical four hole ones), as they might find the brass ones a bit too garish. This was actually pretty common in the 1930s for casual jackets and is definitely away to evoke the “shine” of a brass button without the overt connotations.
A scan from Kazuo Hozumi’s Illustrated Book of Ivy.
I’ve definitely noticed how important the Navy Blazer with Brass Buttons is in Japanese-Americana and it’s related styles. It just provides so much character, coinciding with an intentional look instead of being a catch-all for any situation (which I find very limiting when people use it to dictate their style). The Japanese may not be WASPs, but the inspiration behind the style cues are all there. Perhaps this idea is why I’ve been seeing more guys adopt the brass button blazer!
The rule seems to be that don’t always have to lean into ivy-trad as you can also subvert the blazers expected styling. You know how much we love subversion!
The Single Breasted Blazer
You can’t really go wrong with the single breasted Navy Blazer with Brass Buttons. Not only is it literally the jacket of choice for ivy-trads, but it’s the most common one you’ll see or even the easiest to obtain. Like I stated earlier, the golden standard is the ivy sack-jack, with swelled edges, 3-roll-2 closure, and triple patch pockets with flaps. This version is straight forward and easy to get (with variations on button stance and lapels) when you’re thrifting. You get bonus points if you find one with a cool crest, since that makes it even more trad.
What I have seen lately is when guys commission contemporary navy sportcoats (usually with a lightly nipped waist and an extended, soft shoulder) and simply incorporate brass buttons instead of the normal dark horn. While this doesn’t overtly give off the same vibe as trad sack-jack, it’s a great way to get a semi-related vibe across, as most people will recognize the buttons instead of the lapels or construction; I’m also certain that guys are flatted by a modern silhouette than the boxier sack-jack.
Because the jacket is single breasted, you can really wear the jacket with anything. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone, but I think it needs to be said! Obviously wearing it with khaki chinos, grey trousers, or even white pants can be standard and play into the original aesthetics, but I love it when the blazer is juxtaposed against other pieces like jeans or even fun military/workwear pants. It’s about subverting the expectations of the Navy Blazer. This is much more easily done when the jacket is cut fairly modern and simply has brass buttons, though I’m enamored with the idea of using a traditional sack-jack for outfits. I mean in any case, it’s just a jacket- I treat mine like a chore coat.
My journey with the blazer was a simple one, mainly because I always enjoyed it. I knew that it was different than a regular navy sportcoat and routinely had both in my wardrobe just to change it up. The first Navy Blazer with Brass Buttons was obtained from H&M’s Premium Line (though I don’t know how premium it was) and while it was a bit small since I wanted everything slim fit, it was nice to wear. I knew I wasn’t a WASP, so I wasn’t beholden to any rules for it.
The second one, which I got about four years ago when thrifting in Orange County (and shown above), is a traditional sack jacket. It’s probably from the 70s or so, considering its wide lapels and questionable summer weight cloth (the label is Chinese and is probably wool-poly, but breathable), but I love it all the same. The flapped patch pockets are quite big and contribute to the very stereotypical ivy-trad bad guy in old comedy movies.
I’m lazily looking for a replacement, as this blazer is a bit tight in the armholes/chest (but roomy in the waist/hips, but it’s not at the top of my list. I say that mainly because I actually don’t wear it too often. It’s not even the fact that I wear my Spier navy hopsack sportcoat more- I’m just more commonly found in brown checked jackets overall.
With that said, I still enjoy wearing it when the moment strikes. Despite my eternal love for the spearpoint collar, there are still days when I feel like putting on a soft OCBD, repp stripe tie, and TV-Fold pocket square for fun. Or I’ll even go full ivy-trad and get in a sweater vest and bowtie. I also love using it as a fun casual jacket, mainly as a slightly dressy alternative to a chore coat.
Even the outfit above isn’t overtly a basic Navy Blazer look. Instead of the thin blues of a university stripe, I’ve opted for a wider variation. I’ve got a black knit tie, but the pocket square is carelessly thrown in with the points all askew. Charcoal grey wool trousers would’ve been a “correct choice”, but I bring in my peached cotton Stoffa pants, which feature pleats, a common no-no for ivy enthusiasts. However, I do finish it off with some white socks and Alden penny loafers. It’s all playing with the ideas of ivy-trad, especially with the use of a Navy Blazer, but done in a different way.
As I’ve been saying, the Blazer brings in its old connotations while you provide the subversion. Personally, I think that the Navy Blazer with Brass Buttons is a great candidate for a versatile sportcoat, since the hardwear relegates it for “fun” use rather than a formal one. I don’t think a standard wool navy sportcoat would be able to do some of these looks as effectively, since it doesn’t have the same character. Sure, it may be the “correct” or the “grounded” look, but I definitely prefer the fun option.
I don’t think any of these make me look like a College Republican.
Okay, maybe just a little.
The double breasted Blazer with Brass Buttons is an interesting one, not only because is it less famous than it’s SB brother, but because DBs are rarer overall. Now you could argue that the DB Blazer is the original, mainly because it’s the one you see most for nautical/military jackets that resemble a contemporary sportcoat most closely. We also can’t forget the countless inspo pictures of Prince Charles wearing his DB Blazer!
In those older models and pictures, the DB Blazer was commonly seen in wilder configurations, like the 6×3 or even 8×4, again pointing to it’s nautical heritage. While guys like Aleks Cvetcovic love leaning into it (he doesn’t wear it traditionally), I’m not a fan of that many buttons on a jacket. The other wonky alternative is the 4×2, which I’ve heard referred to as the Newport model by Japanese menswear guys. I think the 4×2 is the relaxed version where as the 6×3 and 8×3 are trussed up and better suited for more English-inspired outfits.
In any case, the classic 6×2 (the one with two nipple buttons and two fastening buttons) is the one you can trust, simply because it just means that you have a normal, navy DB jacket with brass buttons. Obviously there is pictoral evidence of every closure type I’ve listed, but the 6×2 is the best way to go if you want to try the DB Blazer. In fact, a lot of guys are adopting this model over the SB one!
I think that’s because a DB blazer is just much more interesting that a regular SB jacket. Firstly, the DB has wider lapels, which gives it an elegant old school charm that has a loucheness to it, similar to a gratuitously rolled OCBD. Second, the overlapping closure can be fastened to be elegant or left undone, which looks even more slouchy than an SB open jacket. Thirdly, a DB is just rarer (I’ve said this) and more unexpected than an SB. Since menswear enthusiasts are seldom gung-ho about blending in, it makes sense as to why the DB Blazer has been a bit of a trend.
What makes the DB Blazer even more interesting is that it’s used much less in ivy-trad outfits than the SB. There’s just something about this variation of the Navy Blazer that makes it better suited for general use, though both the DB and SB are great to use across a myriad of attires. It could be an even deeper subversion, as DB’s aren’t too commonly worn as versatile odd jackets, at least to the mainstream, and yet guys wear them with jeans and easy pants. I just love seeing how it’s worn differently by each guy, invoking some of the ivy-trad vibes and then ousting it at the last second.
Now I only own one Navy Blazer DB, and it’s from Ring Jacket. It’s their Club DB, made especially for the American market, and is cut from their signature Balloon fabic, which as I’ve detailed in this article, is incredibly breathable and wrinkle resistant, making it a perfect addition to ya boy’s LA closet. I got it during their recent quarantine sale, which made it more affordable for my means; it was closer to what I paid for my brown jacket in Japan, though obviously it is different in fit and styling to what I saw during my trip.
The thought process I had regarding whether or not I should buy this jacket actually follows the overall theme of this blog post. I actually do not currently own a modern double breasted jacket, as all of mine are vintage from the 1930s-1940s. I have two navy ones, both in flannel (one is a belt back odd jacket, the other is a part of a suit), and so I wanted one to wear in warm weather, which is why the Balloon called out to me.
Since this was a hefty price ($750~ is still a lot of money, though considerably less than retail or for good custom tailoring), I wanted to make sure it was worth it. Should the my first contemporary, summer-appropriate navy DB be one with brass buttons? Sure, I could get the buttons removed, but that’s a lot of extra work (plus I’d have to source the buttons too). I thought back over how much I enjoy having an SB Navy Blazer and to Spencer’s mantra of intentionally leaning into it and in the end, I copped it.
And I’ve been in love with it ever since.
Unlike my SB jackets of which I can choose between a standard navy hopsack and the Blazer, I have no such luxury with this DB, since it’s my only one. As a result, it inherently makes any outfit I wear with it an ivy-trad on. The thing is, I don’t even intentionally lean into it- I subvert the connotations each time I wear it. It’s actually quite versatile!
Above it’s worn as a fun vintage-esque outfit with a club collar shirt, beautiful 30’s silk tie, cotton trousers, and beret. It’s almost like Ethan Newton’s more traditional, British country look, just done with a bit more quirky choices. Sure, a regular navy jacket sans brass buttons would have been fine (or even “correct”), but the Blazer used here is a fun intentional choice, both because it’s the only one I own, but because I liked the vibe that the “hardware” ads.
I don’t think my outfit is particularly ivy-trad even with the jacket, at least when compared to the outfits I created for the SB version.
This Casual Ethan outfit really exemplifies how this jacket doesn’t even have to be used with tailoring, similar to how I wore the SB with hoodies and sneakers. In this outfit, the base pieces are a knit tee shirt and some wide leg/slightly cropped easy pants from Uniqlo. It’s a typical casual outfit for me, utilizing drape and an earthy color palette. Now a navy chore coat would give this a more standard wide-fit aesthetic (think Evan Kinori), but the DB Blazer makes it different. Now it has ties to tailoring, playing with my use of black penny loafers. The soft construction probably helps with this vibe, but its still basically a sportcoat worn with elevated loungewear; the brass buttons give it an edge, subverting what a typical WASP would consider to be casual.
This and the typical beret Ethan fit above it have really been my guide for creating outfits with this new DB Navy Blazer. It’s also because they were literally the first outfits I made after purchasing it!
I’ll finish this off with an outfit that really illustrates what I love about this blazer: the ability to add an dressy flair to something irreverent. In this case, it’s a bit like a cowboy went prep (or at least got into tailoring).
Edgy black or dark navy outfits have been one of my favorite things to do lately and it really came through in this one. Instead of the typical drapey silhouettes I tend to do with that aesthetic, I went for something a bit rougher, accomplished by pairing my LVC sawtooth with my trusty raw hemmed jeans. Both are Levis, so it’s a bit of brand synergy (this post isn’t sponsored, I swear).
A navy hopsack SB jacket would definitely have made it a bit more Bryceland’s, as I have definitely seen related looks from them, but the use of the DB Navy Blazer with Brass Buttons provides a different vibe. The hardwear, dangling off the jacket, plays with the pearl snaps and rivets, bridging the gap between the pieces. Of course, the tie and black loafers help as well, but the DB Blazer really is the first thing to make a bystander say “woah, now this is different”.
It’s basically a summer appropriate version of this outfit, as the Balloon fabric is much more wearable in Los Angeles than flannel. I may just have to do a variation on the above outfit with my black chelsea boots.
Come to think of it, quite a few of my old DB outfits (of which I could only wear in fall/winter due to the fabric) could be given new life (and a new edge) with this DB Navy Blazer with Brass Buttons.
I think that when #menswear came to fruition in the late 2000s, they over-corrected quite a few things: suits got slimmer, shirt collars got smaller, and they emphasized the importance of the no-nonsense of the plain, navy jacket. While it’s not bad to have a standard navy jacket, I think that it’s lead to the neo-neo-prep revival (named because I’m talking about the late 2010s love, not the 2000s one with RL Rugby), where guys are introducing a bit of vintage prep (as well as rugged ivy) into classic tailoring to make it more interesting. I like that since we’ve finally had quite a bit of being too standard; we could make use of some fun.
That fun brings us to a new love of the Navy Blazer with Brass Buttons. It’s got a history of traditionalism, ivy, and WASP, but the way it’s worn today removes all of it. In some cases, it feels like guys are leaning into the vibes. It’s resurrecting some old ivy (with some ruggedness thrown in), but it’s also subverting a few of its expectations. You can probably thank the Japanese for providing so much inspiration on how to wear it. I even think that the Navy Blazer’s recent appearances in menswear even point to a small trend.
By it’s design (or just quite literally, it’s brass buttons), it has character. This makes it much more interesting than a standard navy sportcoat with horn buttons. If you’re a guy who prefers to keep things standard with spread collar shirts and plain grey trousers, then I can see how the Blazer might be a bit too much for you, drawing unwanted attention. However, if you’re like me who likes subverting quite a bit in menswear, then it’s a perfect choice, being full of history and a tool to have fun with clothing.
My philosophy on the navy blazer follows everything else I’ve written about on this blog. Instead of olive trousers, I wear literal HBT cargo pants from WWII. Instead of a regular shirt collar, I have spearpoints. And when I’m feeling fun, instead of a standard navy sportcoat, I break out the Navy Blazer with Brass Buttons. For both the SB and the DB, they really are as versatile as anything else in my wardrobe, much to my happy surprise.
Honestly at a certain point, they’re just an interesting jacket with fun buttons and you should wear it accordingly. And hey, if anyone ever compared me to a WASP (which might be impossible because I’m Filipino), they kept it to themselves, and that’s fine by me.
Anyway, I’ll see you guys on the yacht.
Always a pleasure,
Luv my Navy blazer after changing sizes and losing weight. My tan blazer (Stanley Blacker) needs dark horn or something. The brass buttons look wrong on that, probably next to my Camel Hair Tan Jacket.
Enjoyed your essay on the blazer immensely. Encountered your blog during an online search on blazer buttons. Would love to read additional posts. All the best!